By Emily Williams
The holiday season revives fond memories of pumpkin-spiced beverages, homes dressed in lights and a general cheeriness in the air.
Then there are the less fond memories, most notably of shopping.
It’s a time of year when you are scrambling to cross off every item on your list and drum up a gift idea for that friend or relative who “has everything.”
Local nonprofits are offering an answer to that gift-giving struggle. Why not make giving the gift?
With the idea that most people don’t actually want more stuff during the holidays, the Greater Birmingham Humane Society again this year is offering a range of gifts animal lovers can donate on someone else’s behalf.
“We put the holiday catalog together as a way for people to give meaningful gifts to teachers, friends, family and neighbors who love animals,” said Allison Black Cornelius, president and CEO of the society. “If you can’t have your own puppy, why not ‘buy a puppy’ through giving?”
The year has been a great one for the organization. It received national attention from “Good Morning America,” “The Today Show” and PetSmart Charities. It broke records for adoptions and pet transports. It helped needy pet owners get food and surgeries for their animals and provided surgical experience for more than 150 Auburn University veterinary students.
“We take in about 20,000 animals a year – 10 animals each hour for every hour we are open,” Cornelius said. “ And because of this success we had a record-breaking year of expenses.”
The society logs among the highest intake numbers of shelters in the U.S., Cornelius said, comparable to shelters in Denver, Chicago, Atlanta and Phoenix. But with more animals come higher expenses.
The answer to the problem has been the holiday catalog.
“More than 70 percent of our $4.7 million budget comes from gifts received during the holiday month of December,” Cornelius said. “Most grant-makers and large corporations exclude animal welfare charities from their giving. Most of our funding comes from individual donors.”
Come January, if the shelter hasn’t met its holiday donations goal, it isn’t just the staff that feels the cutbacks, it’s the animals. Cutbacks could come in the form of cutting emergency response to animal cruelty complaints, cutting the number of homeless and injured pets that can be taken in and decreasing adoption hours.
“Worst of all, we would backtrack on everything we have accomplished and see a massive increase in the deaths of innocent animals,” Cornelius said.
Gift options range from $25 for basic shelter needs, such as covering the cost of puppy care, treats or toys, up to $1,500 to fund a surgical table, paying the costs of two veterinary students to work and learn at the shelter in externships.
According to the organization, one vet student can perform about 100 surgeries, either life-saving or spay/neuter, during the two-week program.
Not only does this give back to animals that cannot help themselves, it is what Cornelius describes as a “unique teachable moment” for parents.
“During the holidays, my parents would anonymously pay off a stranger’s lay-away at a store or walk up and give money to people,” she said. “They would always have me purchase toys for needy children. This had a major impact on my attitude towards philanthropy,” she said.
The Greater Birmingham Humane Society’s annual holiday catalog can be found online at
Giving back during the holidays hasn’t gone just to the dogs, as local nonprofits for people with special needs offer up some holiday classics to make donating easy.
The Exceptional Foundation’s holiday gift wrap fundraiser allows gift-givers the opportunity to donate while also giving dad that golf gadget he’s been eyeing.
The foundation’s development director, Dee Grisham, and some of the foundation’s participants have been selling rolls of gift wrap at $10 a roll. The paper is double-sided, and the designs are inspired by the artwork of foundation participants Michelle Jeter and Seth Bokatzian.
“This fundraiser helps the foundation support all of our daily activities,” Grisham said.
Some of those activities include filling up the gas tanks of the foundation’s vans so they can be used to take participants on field trips, as well as taking participants to social activities such as bowling and going to the movies.
“We are not federally or state funded and are not part of the United Way, so the money raised is very important to our ability to continue to provide our participants with everyday activities,” Grisham said.
In addition to wrapping paper, the foundation has a selection of holiday cards for $10 each that feature artwork created by participants.
The foundation’s wrapping paper can be purchased at the foundation or at local retail establishments including the Lamb’s Ear, Chickadee, Sweet Peas, Oak Street Garden Shop and Stella Blu, with all proceeds benefiting the foundation.
A holiday gifting fixture for more than 38 years, Glenwood Autism and Behavioral Health Center’s Pecans for Autism sale was created to raise funds for the Allan Cott School, which provides education and therapy programs for children with autism.
“Glenwood’s pecans make great gifts for family and friends and also make great corporate gifts. A long-running fundraiser for Glenwood, the pecans are high quality products, and recipients like getting gifts that benefit the people we serve,” said Deborah Lee Yount, president and CEO of Glenwood.
The drive has been such a success for the organization that it was revamped as a year-round fundraiser two years ago, said Shanda Daniel, who has been running the fundraiser for the past several years.
“With the support of local grocery stores, merchants and corporate sponsors, we sell over $700,000 during the months of November and December,” Daniel said.
Those funds benefit the organization’s ability to provide services to more than 9,500 Alabamians through programs for children, adults and families affected by autism and behavioral health disorders.
“This is our busiest time because our pecans are the ‘first shake of the trees,’ absolutely fresh and the large mammoth halves,” Daniel said.
Pecans for Autism offers up a variety of options. The classic tub of freshly shelled pecans comes in a variety of sizes beginning at $14 for one pound. There is also the option of sweet pecan treats that can be purchased individually or in assorted gift sets. New this year is the pecan brittle, $10 for 12 ounces, and the divinity bar, $3 for a 4-ounce bar.
Pecans can be purchased online at glenwood.org or at various stores. In the Over the Mountain area, Pecans for Autism are sold at Hollywood Pools in Vestavia Hills and the Brook Highland Shopping Center; Winn-Dixie supermarkets; IberiaBank locations in Homewood, Hoover, Vestavia, Crestline Village and Mountain Brook, as well as at UAB and the downtown Birmingham location; Piggly Wiggly locations in Liberty Park and Homewood; and SouthPoint Bank at the Colonnade.